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December 3, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

A Holiday Birthday

Jesus was born on a holiday, but obviously it wasn’t Christmas since there was no such celebration in the first century.  Jesus was born just after sundown on September 11, in 3 BC.  On the Hebrew calendar this would have been the beginning of Tishri 1 or Rosh HaShanah, “the beginning of the year”.  The research behind this conclusion can be found in Ernest Martin’s book “The Star That Astonished the World.”  It is available, but copies are scarce.

Joseph was originally from Bethlehem, the City of David.  His betrothal to Mary took him to Nazareth where the original plan seems to have been to build their home there with Mary’s family.  The trip to Bethlehem was occasioned by at least three factors.  The first was that Rome had ordered an oath of allegiance to be made by every Roman citizen in recognition of Augustus Caesar’s twenty-fifth anniversary as emperor and the conferring on him the title Pater Patriae (Father of the Nation).  The title was formally bestowed on him on February 5, 2 BC, so the registration would have taken place in the late summer or fall of 3 BC.  Travel in Israel did not take place in the summer heat or the winter rain.

The second factor would have been the desire to be in the Jerusalem area for the High Holidays.  These included Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and the Feast of Tabernacles.  This would cover a period of some twenty-one days.  Since there would have been a group of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for the festivities Joseph and Mary could travel safely with the band of pilgrims from the Galilee.

A third factor that motivated the seventy mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem was that Mary was pregnant.  By this time Joseph knew the child to be born was to be the salvation of Israel, the heir of David.  Bethlehem would be the proper place for his birth, and Joseph had family there that could give shelter and assistance during the delivery.

Bethlehem was a small village where shepherding was the major occupation.  Most people would have a lower room connected to the house, often utilizing a natural cave, where the animals were kept.  Bethlehem was crowded upon the couple’s arrival.  The guest room had already been occupied.  The Greek word translated “inn,” even in the English Standard Version, is “katalumati,” which literally means stopping place.  It is the same word used for the room of Last Supper which is translated in Luke 22:11 as “guest room.”  Joseph and Mary were in the home of family when Jesus was born.  However, the stable was the only private space available for the delivery.

It is uncertain when the family returned to Nazareth.  It would certainly have been after Tabernacles was complete.  The time of ritual uncleanness following childbirth is forty days.  Luke records Mary’s purification at the Temple after the prescribed period.  The return to Nazareth would be for the purpose of introducing Mary’s family to the new born.  It is entirely possible that the family of Mary who made the trip with them for Tabernacles waited to return with the couple following the ceremony of Purification.  The plan at this point does not seem to be making Nazareth their home.  Bethlehem was after all the City of David.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs